Canadian tightrope walker Jay Cochrane dies of cancer at age 69

TORONTO – Celebrated Canadian tightrope walker Jay Cochrane died Wednesday in Niagara Falls, Ont., at the age of 69.

A tribute on Cochrane‘s website to the man dubbed ‘‘The Prince of the Air‘‘ says he died from pancreatic cancer.

Cochrane was born in Saint John, N.B., in 1944 and grew up in the northern Ontario towns of North Bay and Sudbury.

The tribute, written by friend Shane Peacock, says Cochrane became enamoured by tightrope walking at the age of eight and ran away from home at 14 to begin his long career.

But that career began painfully, when in 1965, a tightrope 27 metres high at Varsity Stadium in Toronto collapsed and he suffered a broken pelvis, two broken legs and other fractures and was told he would never walk again.

Cochrane recovered by 1970, however, and ascended his first “skywire” 40 stories high between two skyscrapers to help mark the opening of the Hudson Bay Centre tower in Toronto.

Two years later, Cochrane set a world record when he walked back and forth for four kilometres on a 91-metre long wire 36 metres above ground at the Canadian National Exhibition, also in Toronto.

In 1981, Cochrane set a second world record by living on a high wire for 21 days in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Cochrane’s greatest achievement was in 1995 when he walked more than 640 metres over the Yangtze River in China from a height of 411 metres.

The event, before a crowd of 200,000 people, made Cochrane a legend in China. His likeness appeared on a Chinese stamp and a school was named in his honour.

In recent years, Cochrane performed several high-wire acts in Niagara Falls, including a 228-metre high walk on a tightrope in 2012 at the age of 68.

Cochrane is survived by two brothers and two sisters and had asked that any gifts in his honour be sent to The Tender Wishes Foundations in the Niagara region, which helps ease the live of terminally ill children, and the Boys and Girls Club of Niagara Falls.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.